A last-minute Adriano Galliani transfer coup, a slow start to the season and meetings with Barcelona. We’ve come to accept these Milan-related occurrences in recent seasons. Kaka’s arrival and 11 points from eight games made it two from three. The Champions League draw completed the sweep, for the seventh meeting between the Rossoneri and Barcelona in three seasons. These two historical giants are as close as a pair of magnets.
Milan’s win over Barca in last season’s Round of 16 first leg was the best European win of Massimiliano Allegri’s time in charge. It was defensively disciplined and clinical. Then, the Diavoli were in roaring form. This time they arrived on the back of a lacklustre, but crucial, lone-goal win over Udinese – just their third Serie A triumph. The European adventure started just as shakily – two late goals downing Celtic, before a last-gasp draw with Ajax. How then would Milan deny Barcelona?
They needed a repeat tactical performance. “We chose Kaka because our objective is to stay tight and cover the forward runs of their full-backs, especially Dani Alves,” assistant Mauro Tassotti said prior. “That is our idea, to play with the whole team within a 30-metre gap and try to make it difficult for Barcelona.”
Make life difficult they did. The Gazzetta dello Sport today called them ‘Lions’ and a team who showed ability and heart. It looked nothing like the side which has stuttered through eight Serie A fixtures. For Allegri, this game took the same pattern as the February clash. “It followed the same path as last season’s game, even if we defended a little deeper this time, but had more scoring opportunities.”
Marco Amelia was in goal for his first season appearance due to Christian Abbiati’s injury, but even against a side with the attacking quality of Barcelona – only shut-out for the first time in 65 matches against Osasuna at the weekend – he looked comfortable.
Those ahead did their roles too. The Rossoneri defended stoutly with numbers behind the ball and offered the Spanish champions few clear-cut chances. One occasion they got it wrong – Cristian Zapata’s pass was cut out and Lionel Messi afforded too much room – they were made to pay.
In his first Champions League match for the club since March 2008, Kaka provided a valuable attacking outlet. There even looked a hint of the 2006-07 Kaka as he charged at Gerard Pique and Co. Not only that, the No 22 also put in a solid defensive shift. Allegri praised the 2007 Ballon d’Or winner, while he later thanked the crowd for their support. “All this affection really helps and is more motivation. I hear them sing every time I step on to the field and there was a really special atmosphere at San Siro tonight. It’s the right place for me to play well.”
Fellow Brazilian Robinho was another to impress. He was Milan’s best player – according to the Gazzetta – and netted a crucial goal, aided by Kaka and a suspect Barcelona defence. It can only be a good sign for the Rossoneri that both played as they did. Robinho may even have won it shortly after the interval, missing a gilt-edged chance.
It leaves Milan unbeaten and second in Group H. Allegri’s men have five points, two behind Barcelona and two ahead of Celtic. Their trip to Celtic Park on Matchday 5 looks the vital showdown, but before that comes a trip to the Nou Camp. Gerardo Martino insists his side did enough to win last night and will look to put that right in the return.
The upcoming weeks will be important for Milan’s season, with a tricky set of domestic fixtures before visiting Spain. They’ll hope this performance can be the spur for the second half of the group stage, with qualification very much still in their hands.